The most interesting thing about looking over the Pitchfork choices for the top fifty Britpop albums has been seeing how people outside of the UK view the era and the music.
The notion of Britishness can be a confusing, infuriating and complex thing. Where Emily Thornberry saw something ugly in a flag of St. George and a white van others would have seen patriotism and nothing more. When I think of what it means to be British I don’t think about where people were born or even if they are British “citizens”…I think about rather quaint, idealised and romantic notions like cricket, a stiff upper lip, fair play, dignity in victory as well as in defeat, moral conservatism, good manners. Basically I think about David Niven in “A Matter of Life and Death”.
For me then Britpop itself wasn’t confined to national borders or passports…either for musicians or fans. It was a moment that celebrated a certain vision of Britain’s musical heritage, a cartoon version of national identity and a sense of fun.
I’ve gone off at a tangent.
What I am trying to say is that a list of Britpop albums from the perspective of people from outside of the UK has been intriguing. It has also been infuriating. Like Partridge talking about Bond I have screamed “Stop getting Britpop wrong” on about half a dozen occasions while writing about this list. Then again, who am I to determine what is right or wrong when it comes to Britpop?
Here are the albums that Pitchfork decided were the five best of the era.
Dog Man Star, 1994 – Suede
As close to perfection as popular music gets.
“Dog Man Star” is grand, intimate, operatic, gothic, experimental, dark, stark, cold, warm, challenging, engaging, thrilling and so much more. From the romance of “The Wild Ones” to the glam stomp of “The New Generation”, from the heartbreaking thrills of “Still Life” to the aching pain of “The Asphalt World” this is an album that reaches deep into whatever passes for your soul and from their sends shivers down your spine at the same time as it mends the breaks in your heart.
It was the sound of a band reaching their peak at the same time as they fell apart.
The tensions between Butler and Anderson meant that this would be the last Suede album.
At least that is what everyone thought.
Maybe not everyone because Suede simply…carried on.
But when “Dog Man Star” was released it seemed like the end of something wonderful.
“Country House” may well have won the battle of Britpop and “Wake Up Boo” may well be the song that lodged its infuriating nonsense into a nations earholes but it was “Dog Man Star” that captured the sound of the streets, the noise of wasted lives in dead end towns and the roar of the lonely across the country.
(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, 1995 – Oasis
Little known fact…everybody in Britain owned two copies of “Morning Glory” in 1995.
That’s how it seemed.
This was the point when Oasis went from being part of the Britpop pack or being just an exciting new band to being, officially, the biggest band in the country. It was also the album that would propel them to near global domination…only the ugliness of the relationship between Liam and Noel stopping them from grabbing the American public in the same way as they had the British.
The howl of “Definitely Maybe” was replaced, for the most part, by something a little closer to the middle of the road. The indie kids had been won over by the attitude, swagger and, yes, cool of the likes of “Supersonic” and the notion that Oasis were the new Beatles but it was the subtler, more polished, Radio 2 friendly sounds of “Wonderwall” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” that would make their mums pay attention too.
Any album by any band at any time that features “Champagne Supernova” is deserving of a place in the list of greatest albums of all time too…an epic.
The Bends, 1995 – Radiohead
A lot of people really love Radiohead.
I am very happy for them.
A lot of people really love “The Bends”.
There are things to love about it for sure.
Two things are important here though…
- I don’t like Radiohead
- They are not a Britpop band.
The second of those points is moot because of the first of course.
I don’t know why I have such a visceral dislike of Radiohead.
I think it started with “Creep”.
It was so miserable.
When British bands do miserable it is usually with a hint of humour (hello to The Smiths) or with an icy, near glacial, poetic romance (hello Joy Division). American bands tend to lack the willingness or ability to do this, seeing it as somehow showing a lack of authenticity…that’s why a British band couldn’t write a song called “I Hate Myself I Want to Die” and keep a straight face.
Radiohead are an American band I think.
The humour, guile, charm and romance of British indie music isn’t there.
It’s all tragedy.
I don’t like Thom Yorke’s hair either…ever.
Parklife, 1994 – Blur
Can we just take a moment to look at that front cover.
Everything about it just…right.
The colour of the font.
Much like the album which is, despite my feelings about the title track, a genuine British classic. Not just a Britpop classic but a British pop music classic. Era defining. This was the moment that Blur became the biggest band in the country, capturing the hearts of teenage girls, indie kids, Mods, Britpoppers, music journalists, other bands and, oh damn it…everyone. Seriously. Everyone.
I’ll say no more because the 25th anniversary of its release looms and I need to have something to say then.
All of which brings us to the greatest Britpop album according to the good people at Pitchfork.
I bet you can’t wait to find out what it is.